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Eric Tusz-King: “Naming & Describing the One Order of Ministry”

            Most ministers have come into a ministry that already had a name. I am among only a few ministers in the United Church who came into ordered ministry in the late 1970s and then in the early 1980s we were asked by General Council what we wanted to be called. That was a profound learning experience for those involved in the consultations General Council Executive convened.  For me, and I suspect many others involved, it continues to be a determining moment in ministry.  Am I determined to stay in that moment? No. Am I determined to carry the learnings of diaconal ministry into the present conversation on the ‘One Order of Ministry”? Yes.

            What were these life (ministry) determining learnings?  I learned that despite my education for both ordained and diaconal ministry,[1] I never heard anything about the history of deaconesses in Biblical or present church history. The history I learned from those in the Deaconess Order was foundational and provided a valuable understanding of ancient traditions and earlier generations[2] within which I could place my ministry.  That was critical as one who had formerly been a square peg in a round hole trying to fit a ministry of church engagement in community and global concerns into a ministry of congregational sacraments, preaching, and pastoral care.

            Along with choosing Diaconal Minister as our name, General Council Executive also gave us the opportunity to describe our ministry. We chose to use a similar pattern to Ordained Ministers, and said we wanted to be known as a ministry committed to “education, service, and pastoral care.”  These terms are both rich in meaning and show the limitations of language.  Today we might use terms such as, education for engagement, justice making, community development, and mutual care.  Choosing only a few words to describe one’s ministry is not much easier than choosing one name!

            An essential aspect of naming and describing our ministry was our use of a consensus decision-making process.  The consensus model empowered people from various generations and with diverse ideas to uphold the integrity of each type of ministry and did not allow a popular form of ministry at the time to be seen as the norm.  For example, the common model at the time was a diaconal minister being in a congregational multiple staff team responsible for Christian Education.  However we did not make that the norm to which others had to conform.  We encouraged diversity. If we had limited the diaconal model of ministry to one popular model, Diaconal Ministers might never have been encouraged in their leadership in interim ministries, community ministries, and many more.  The richness in diverse skills would have been lost.

In my settlement charge, as part of a multiple staff team, I provided leadership in Christian Education, Outreach, and Pastoral Care. In my first year I was asked by Maritime Conference to chair the Mutuality in Mission Committee to host the Rev. Junichi Kamuro from the United Church of Christ in Japan (UCCJ) for 2 years.  On one occasion I introduced the Rev. Kamuro to a group of Ordained Minister colleagues.  They asked him how many ministers and churches there were in the UCCJ.  His answer totally confused them, because there were two to three times as many ministers as there were congregations.  Were there that many multiple staff ministries?  No, he explained many ministers do not work in congregations but are in community ministries – working with labour unions, farmer organizations, and other community organizations.  My ordained colleagues were only familiar with a handful of outreach ministries, chaplains, and professors. They learned that for many of our partner churches it is quite common for a ministry to be accountable to the wider church and not to a congregation.

            I came to learn that a congregation ‘reaching out’ beyond its walls is not always the preferred model for being the church in the world.  Sometimes a better model is for the church to ‘be in’ the community and be a witness to God’s will for love and justice there.  I relearned that diaconal ministry had been doing this since Biblical times.  Regretfully, I learned through my experience of being turned down as a “Presbytery recognized ministry”, that many in the United Church are uncomfortable with ‘in community ministries’ and we do not encourage ministries outside of the congregation.

            Reflecting on just these few experiences, I have suggestions to make as our United Church of Canada moves into serious consideration of “One Order of Ministry”.  I make these suggestions as a way of ‘prominently upholding’ the qualities of ministry I have learned from my experience of diaconal ministry, in whatever the new model of ministry will be.  My suggestions are:

  1. Before making any decisions on name and description of the ‘one order’ the United Church of Canada should create intentional learning opportunities for all ministry personnel (Diaconal, Ordained and Designated Lay Ministers) to study, live, and work together for six years (two General Council periods). Out of that experience and knowledge of each other, we will be able to more so appreciate our diversity and richness of ministries.

  2. After six years of this intentional studying, living, and working together, all ministry personnel will be engaged in a consensus decision-making process to name and describe the one order of ministry.[3]

Eric Tusz-King, Diaconal Minister, has had ministries in congregations, General Council, and Maritime Conference, and is presently involved with community ministries developing co-operative businesses which respond to the challenges of climate change.

[1] I started studies for ordained ministry at Atlantic School of Theology in 1975 and transferred to the Centre for Christian Studies (CCS) for studies in diaconal ministry in 1976.  While at CCS, I took many classes with candidates for ordination at Emmanuel College and Toronto School of Theology.

[2] The United Church of Canada, History of Diaconal Ministry in The United Church of Canada 1925-1991. Toronto: Division of Ministry Personnel and Education, The United Church of Canada, 1991.

[3] The recommendations from the consultations on naming and describing diaconal ministry were approved by General Council 1980 and 1982. General Council would still need to approve recommendations from a consultation with its ministers on naming and describing their ministry with regard to the One Order of Ministry.

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